One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.
– Tom Wolfe, American author and journalist
Monday morning, our sixth full day in New York, we got up early and walked from our apartment to the Brooklyn Bridge on the Lower Manhattan side. This is something I wanted David and the kids to experience. I have walked the bridge twice – in September 2012 and January 2013, both times with my sister Heidi. Now it was with the family and in the summer. Here’s a bit of history on the Brooklyn Bridge, which the National Park Service and the New York City Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission have designated a National Historic Landmark. Construction began in 1869, and when it opened in 1883 – connecting the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan – it was the longest suspension bridge in the country, spanning 1,595 feet across the East River. More than 150,000 people crossed the bridge, which cost $15 million to build, on opening day.
It’s actually a hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge, which is 5,989 feet long, with the pedestrian walkway across the bridge slightly more than 1.1 miles long. The towers, which rise 276 feet above the water, are made of granite from Maine quarries – no doubt from Stonington, where my friend Jack Beaudoin has an island home. The open-truss design is in the Neo-Gothic style. Four huge cables comprise more than 5,000 steel wires. Only cars cross the bridge now, with the bicycle-pedestrian walkway built above the roadway. At one time, elevated trains and streetcars ran on the bridge, until 1944 and 1950, respectively.
We walked around the Brooklyn Bridge Park (334 Furman Street, Brooklyn), an 85‐acre sustainable waterfront park stretching 1.3 miles along Brooklyn’s East River shoreline. I’d never been to the park before, just along the promenade the other two times. We had a leisurely lunch before catching the subway back to Lower Manhattan. When we reached Manhattan, we gave the kids their choice of what they wanted to do for the rest of the day. They could each pick one place to visit when we went down the list of potential things to do that we hadn’t already done.
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum: Jacob’s pick
Not a surprise, Jacob chose the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (Pier 86 at 46th Street) in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on the West Side of Manhattan. As you walk along the waterfront heading toward the museum, the first thing you see is the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, which is a National Historic Landmark. According to the pamphlets, the museum is dedicated to “the exhibition and interpretation of history, science and service as related to its home aboard the Intrepid.” Launched in 1943, the Intrepid survived five kamikaze attacks and one torpedo strike during World War II. It went on to serve in the Cold War and the Vietnam War, with service as a NASA recovery vessel in the 1960s, specifically the Mercury-Atlas 7 (1962) and the Gemini-Titan 3 (1965) space missions. Decommissioned in 1974, it is the namesake of this sea, air, and space museum.
One of the other major exhibits at the museum is the Growler, the only American guided missile submarine open to the public since it was brought here in 1989. This was the first exhibit we saw upon entering the museum. We got a firsthand look at what life was like for the sailors who lived in this submarine. Can you say tight quarters? Not for anyone who is claustrophobic. We also got to see its once “top secret” missile command center.
When we ascended the expansive deck of the Intrepid, we were amazed at the number of aircraft on display. Temperatures were soaring, so while Isabella and I found a sliver of shade, we let David and Jacob explore the various aircraft. One such star was the British Airways Concorde Alpha Delta G-BOAD, which recorded the fastest Atlantic Ocean crossing by any Concorde on February 7, 1996, at 2 hours, 52 minutes, and 59 seconds. So, one has to ask why they were retired. British Airways cited technical and safety challenges. Others, particularly from the Save the Concorde Group, say it’s all about politics. At any rate, I was disappointed that we couldn’t board the plane, as I love airplanes and what they represent – travel and adventure!
Inside Intrepid, the Space Shuttle Pavilion offered up the impressive space shuttle Enterprise, the prototype NASA orbiter that would help shape the U.S. space shuttle program. This area features interactive exhibit zones, original artifacts, photographs, audio, and films depicting the science and history of Enterprise and the space shuttle era. This isn’t the kind of museum I would choose to visit, but the various air, sea, and space craft were astonishing to see up close, and Jacob was in heaven.
Central Park Zoo: Isabella’s choice
When we touring Central Park in our horse-drawn carriage, we caught a glimpse of Central Park Zoo (64th St and 5th Avenue, 212.439.6500), which is part of New York City’s integrated system of four zoos and the New York Aquarium managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Begun in the 1860s as a menagerie, it became the first official zoo to open in the city. The zoo was modified in 1934, with many new buildings erected, including the quadrangle around the sea lion pool. The zoo was renovated in the mid-1980s and reopened in 1988, dispensing with the old-era cages in favor of more natural environments. This is a tiny park, easily walked through with all animals seen in a few hours, although we didn’t venture into the Tisch Children’s Zoo.
We all enjoyed and spent a lot of time in the Tropic zone: the rainforest, where we saw beautiful birds such as the Victoria-crowned pigeon. We did not see, however, the exotic and color frogs and snakes. The Central garden and sea lion pool anchors the park, and we caught the sea lion feeding and show. Off to the side, we watched the harbor seals cavort and the spirited penguins dive and swim past us like torpedoes. We saw snow monkeys, snow leopards, grizzly bears, and the cutest red pandas, which looked like a cartoon bear. While we appreciated seeing these wonderful and majestic animals, I came away rather sad because I felt the enclosures were too small for them. The poor red pandas kept circling the same path over and over. I suppose you could expand out into Central Park to give them more room, but that seems highly unlikely.
The grizzly bears Betty and Veronica, who were rescued from Montana and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming because they had become too bold with their interactions with humans, first were moved to the Bronx Zoo in 1995. They were subsequently moved to Central Park Zoo in September 2014, a year after “bi-polar” bear Gus, who lived in the Central Park Zoo for the previous 25 years, died in 2013. Apparently, Gus had “spent countless hours swimming laps in his small pool and was eventually diagnosed with depression.” Gee, I wonder why! And nobody thought that Gus ought to live in better environs? Or have a companion? I didn’t want to spoil Isabella’s time by pointing out the tight confines of the zoo, which was one of the highlights of her trip. Let’s just say that one hopes some local citizen our group of citizens decides to focus on the animals’ happiness and not the visitors’ happiness.
We had to get back to our apartment by a certain time in the evening because my sister Heidi was coming into town to join me for the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) 2016 Biennial Conference that was going to take place later in the week at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in Midtown Manhattan. Following the recommendation of our Airbnb host, we ordered pizza from a pizzeria beyond the borders of Little Italy, and had a little family reunion of sorts in our Mulberry Street abode.
Looking back at my recollection of Central Park Zoo, I leave you with this quote from Peter Matthiessen, author, co-founder of The Paris Review, explorer, naturalist, and activist, from the Snow Leopard: “And then there was the small matter of the snow leopard, whose terrible beauty is the very stuff of human longing. Its uncompromising yellow eyes, wired into the depths of its unfathomable spirit, gaze out from the cover of innumerable editions. It is, I think, the animal I would most like to be eaten by.”